Impending Hearings on BC’s Kinder Morgan Pipeline

By Roy L Hales

The next act in what some are already calling a struggle to Save the Salish Sea began on December 16, 2013, when Kinder Morgan filed an application to build and extend the 1,150-mile-long Trans Mountain pipeline that brings oil from Alberta to BC’s Lower Mainland. The impending hearings on BC’s Kinder Morgan Pipeline project could shape the province’s environmental prospects for decades.

Though it has been in use since 1953, the pipeline originally carried crude oil that was primarily used for domestic uses. Kinder Morgan purchased the line in 2005 and uses it to transport diluted bitumen from the Tar Sand. Now they want to change a significant portion of the route and increase the capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day (bpd). Kinder Morgan also  wants to increase the number of tankers sailing through the Salish Sea from 5 a month to as many as 34. Eoin Madden, a Climate Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, says that would result in 150 million metric tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

“The tar sands have come home to BC,” said Madden. “Local communities do not want to see this project proceed, and it is our job to support them in having their voices heard loud and clear”.

Kinder Morgan claims that if its proposed expansion is approved, the company will pay $2.1 billion in Federal,  $1.7 billion in provincial and $500 million in municipal taxes over the next 20 years. $1 billion of that would go to the government of British Columbia.

Though Premier Christy Clark has not endorsed the Kinder Morgan project, it is clear she has a vision for rapid economic growth. BC is expanding the Lower Mainland’s coal terminals and Clark has repeatedly claimed the province’s natural gas reserves could be transformed into a trillion dollar industry. British Columbia is poised to become North America’s leading exporter of fossil fuels and, most likely, a major contributor to Global Warming.

Kinder Morgan has a department dedicated to maintaining the integrity of Trans mountain pipeline. They send a sophisticated electronic devise, called a “SmartPeg,” through the line to detect anomalies. The data is matched with GPS coordinates to find where there could be potential problem. They cutout sections of the pipe, to test for integrity.

Despite this, there have been spills and the Wilderness Committee has compiled a list of incidents that have occurred along the overland route:
  •  July 15, 2005: About 210,000 litres of crude were released into the area surrounding the company’s Sumas Mountain storage facility in Abbotsford, making its way into Kilgard Creek.
  • July 24, 2007: An oil spill occurred along the Kinder Morgan pipeline in Burnaby when a construction crew inadvertently hit the unmarked pipe with an excavator. Almost 250,000 litres (1500 barrels) of oil shot out of the ground, soaking a residential neighbourhood and seeping into the Burrard Inlet. At least 50 homes had to be evacuated.
  • May 6, 2009: A sizeable spill was discovered at the company’s Burnaby Mountain tank farm, with almost 200,000 litres leaking out into the facility.
  • January 24, 2012: A pipeline rupture at the Sumas Mountain tank farm spilled an estimated 110,000 litres of oil. Local residents reported health problems including nausea, headaches and fatigue, and schoolchildren were kept indoors for fear of airborne toxins.
  • April 3, 2012: Another spill in a “containment area” at the Abbotsford Sumas Mountain facility caused nuisance odors and air quality concerns in surrounding communities.
  • June 12, 2013: A leak was discovered on the Kinder Morgan pipeline near Merritt, BC.
  • June 26, 2013: Just two weeks after the spill near Merritt, yet another leak was discovered – this time spilling up to 4,000 litres of oil at a site near the Coquihalla Summit, about 40 km east of Hope, BC.

“The risks that this pipeline and the associated tankers pose to the Salish Sea are just not worth taking,” said Vancouver Island Campaigner Torrance Coste. “Whether it’s in the form of a catastrophic spill, or through its contribution to carbon emissions and climate change, this project will have serious negative impacts in the region.”

Contrary to what you might expect, oil spills are a daily occurrence. According to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there  were 1,887 “incidents” in the US, of varying magnitudes, during a little over three years.

Last year, a panel appointed by the Federal Government reported that Canada is “not adequately prepared to move quickly on spills” and uses “techniques can recover, even in ‘optimal’ conditions like calm waters and quick access to the spill, between 5 and 15 percent of spilled oil.” They identified the Southern Coast of Vancouver Island as an area  “with the highest probability of a large spill occurring.”

Kinder Morgan recommends that the industry-funded Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation. be greatly expanded and given more up to date boats. That could cut the response time, for a spill anywhere from Burrard Inlet to the Straight of Juan de Fuca, down to 36 hours. The pipeline giant claims that 2/3 of the oil from a major spill in the Gulf Islands could be cleaned up in four days. Only 16% would end up on the beach and 9% remain in the ocean.

This greatly exceeds the estimates from a March 2013 West Coast Spill Response Study, which noted  that the largest tankers carry 210,000 cubic meters of oil  and the Marine Response corporation is only equipped to handle spills of up to 10,000t.   Seven simulated oil spill scenarios were used in this study and the best result they could achieve resulted in 49% of the oil still in the water after five days.

Dr. Gerald Graham,  head of Victoria-based Worldocean Consulting, questioned some of the assumptions underlying Kinder Morgan’s figures and told reporters,  “even if they’re right and get two-thirds of the oil recovered, I’m worried about the other one third. One third of 104,000 barrels, that’s a heck of lot of oil.”

A major spill could devastate  the province’s $1.2 billion-a-year  fishing industry for years to come. The contamination would spread  with the tides and effect everything from plantkton to shellfish and salmon.

It could disrupt Vancouver’s $2 billion-a-year shipping business, which employs 30,000 people.

“I will fiercely oppose any expansion of oil tankers in Vancouver’s harbour,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told Global BC.  “It presents a huge unacceptable risk to our economy and our environment. Certainly an oil spill would be devastating to Stanley Park, to tourism  jobs, our international reputation.”

There would also be a devastating effect on BC’s $14 billion-a-year tourism sector.

“One spill — not the 804 that Enbridge had since 1999 — one oil spill will be a big black eye on tourism in B.C. and Canada,” Bill Eisenhauer, the former communications director for Tourism British Columbia, testified at the hearing for the Northern Gateway Project. “And it’s not only going to kill tourism on the North Coast for years to come. No, it’s going to have a significant, lasting negative affect on tourism in Vancouver and Victoria, Tofino and the entire West Coast.”

One out of every 15 British Columbians is currently dependent on  tourism and even more are employed in the manufacturing sector, which would also suffer.

Kinder Morgan has been working hard to appease local concerns.

“For the past 18 months Kinder Morgan Canada has engaged extensively with landowners, Aboriginal groups, communities and stakeholders along the proposed expansion route, and marine communities and will continue to do so,” the corporation said in a press release.

Premier Christy Clark laid down five conditions that had to be met. The project would have to pass an environmental review, create world-leading marine and land spill prevention and recovery systems, address First Nations’ rights, and give the province a fair share of economic benefits.

Kinder Morgan CEO Ian Anderson claims he can do this.

The project would also employ 4,500 people during construction and create around 90 permanent jobs. Kinder Morgan says local economies will gain $400 million by providing accommodation, food and recreation for its workers.

This is not enough for Vancouver and Burnaby City Councils, who have both expressed their opposition.

Forty-six First Nations – less than half of those along the route – have signed letters of understanding, which Anderson admits does not indicate “explicit” support.

According to Kinder Morgan’s press release, “The next step is for the NEB to establish a hearing schedule that corresponds to the federal government’s legislated 15-month review and decision time frame. Thirteen companies in the Canadian producing and oil marketing business have signed firm contracts bringing the total volume of committed shippers to approximately 708,000 bpd.”

The National Energy Board will start taking applications, from people who wish to  participate in the hearing, on January 15. The NEB start holding online and teleconference training sessions on how to compete the necessary forms, the following day. Applications are due on, or before, February 12. (Click here to proceed to the NEB site)

Members of the public are now subjected to a very prohibitive application process, and all participants are required to prove that they are either “directly affected” by the proposed project or possess “relevant expertise”. In order to participate as an intervenor or to submit a letter of comment, all applicants must be approved by the NEB.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and energy alerting the public to the threat that this project poses to the lands and waters of BC, the Salish Sea region, and our climate. Now is our chance to mobilize our networks and do what we can to engage in the official process – no matter how much that process has been degraded,” said Vancouver Island Campaigner Torrance Coste.

The Wilderness Committee intends to apply as an intervenor in the pipeline’s environmental assessment. In an effort to support individuals and groups who wish to intervene in the process, the  Wilderness Committee will also host workshops at its Vancouver and Victoria offices, contact members in communities surrounding the pipeline and tanker route and offer one-on-one assistance to complete the application process.

Details on these activities and more will be available online at Wilderness and

“When you look at how much carbon is going to pass through our greenest city of the World here, it is a hundred times than any other place with this many people,” said Madden.  “So when I here someone say no to this, they want a cleaner future in British Columbia, when they say we are going to deal with Climate Change, I hear a hundred voices elsewhere in the World. A hundred Irish voices, Chinese voices, all of whom cannot control this amount of carbon. We can stop Climate Change here in British Columbia, if we choose to.”